Headed to another country soon? Here’s an idea..DO NOT SPEAK ENGLISH. (That is if English is not the main language.)
A few years ago, I was hit with the desire to travel to countries that did not speak English. For most of my life my travels consisted of staying inside the friendly borders of The United States of America. I remember going to Barnes and Noble one time and picking up a book about Switzerland. The cover of the book looked so cool. There were mountains… and skiers… and snow. All the things that I enjoy! Then I read inside about the languages that are spoken in Switzerland. They speak German, Italian, Spanish, French..and then something called Swiss-German. Oh…and they speak English there, too.
It was right there that I learned I am a silly American and felt pretty dumb. You mean to tell me there are countries where people can speak more than 5 different language?!
But this is when it truly hit me. In 2013 my wife and I were in Mexico and met a wonderful British family. I don’t recall how we started talking about languages but they mentioned that their 5-year-old is learning Mandarin! Say what now? And when we were in Ireland last year we met a young high school student that could switch his brain from speaking German to English to Spanish just like that.
Yup..I felt really dumb. All I knew was English.
If you never plan to leave The United States then I see why you would not need to learn anything other than English. But The USA only accounts for 7% of the entire world. That means there’s 93% of the world out there that you will never discover if you don’t leave The States.
And if you want to see more than just 7% of the world then it’s going to take some learning of other languages. Learning a language can be hard, but it can also be one of the coolest things you have ever done.
1- Conquer your fear of ever looking stupid: You don’t need to learn the language from front to back. But learning some of the more popular phrases and sayings could make you go from looking like a “Silly American” to looking like Mr. Spock. So what should you learn? Here are a few phrases: “Hello”, “Good-Bye”, “How are you?”, ” I am good/fine/great/wonderful”, “How much does this cost?” ,” I would like to eat/drink”, “Table for…”. And know your basic numbers.
In most cases this is the bulk of the interaction you will have with locals if you’re trying to get by with the bare minimum. But learning these simple sayings can really make you stand out. Plus, your friends will think you’re totally cool!
2- No more paying the full-price: I have never been one to haggle a price tag. I will pay whatever the price tag says. But I also know that there are such things as “tourist prices” and “local prices”. A fine example was when my wife and I went to Costa Rica last summer. We went and asked for a reservation at a fine steak house on the resort. The resort caters to mostly English speaking adults so the staff spoke English for the most part. We went to make a reservation and were told none were available, but that we could speak to the manager if we wanted. We found the manager, and my wife started to speak the local language… Spanish. It wasn’t perfect Spanish, and she spoke it slowly. But the manager was impressed that she tried and even helped her out along the way. That night we were able to eat at the steak house that earlier that day had no reservations available. The reason? Because we were able to sound like a local.
In a few months we will be heading to Germany. For the last year or so I have been learning the language. I admit it’s tough…but I also know that we will be able to break off the touristy road and interact somewhat with the locals. And because of that we will probably visit towns that our friends never will… Drink beer in areas that only the locals go… And more importantly, we will establish cross-cultural friendships and do so while giving our brains a nice boost.